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New semi-vegetarian in the family - how to cook for us all?

  • 19-04-2022 3:19pm
    Registered Users Posts: 272 ✭✭

    (I had this in the vegan and vegetarian forum, but there were no replies, and maybe there might be people here who have some suggestions)

    My 10 year old daughter has been becoming increasingly reluctant to eat meat. Started with sausages, progressed to leaving most of the meat from a dish on her plate, and about a week ago she finally refused point blank to eat roast pork. She says she doesn't want to eat animals anymore.

    In theory, I have no major issues with that (on closer discussion, it's mostly at the moment around meat that feels more 'animal like' to her - so chunks of meat, roast etc; bolognese-type meals, bacon and fish appear to be ok, although I suspect as she gets her head around this more, some of that may change). She has always been very focused on animals, so her taking this stance isn't exactly surprising.

    But. I'm a die-hard omnivore. I admit I could probably do with eating less meat. I quite like the occasional vegetarian meal, and I'm willing to support her. But the whole family will not be going fully vegetarian. I also work full time in a fairly full-on job, have a fairly full plate with the kids, relatives I help out, and trying to carve out a bit of time for myself. I'm not going to be in a position to cook two separate dinners every day.

    So I'm looking for advice - partly on how to make things easier from a practical point of view for cooking - I've done a bit of swapping about and substituting: e.g. when we were due to have chicken curry I added chickpeas to the curry and just served her the chickpeas and none of the chicken. I know most vegetarians would be appalled at that idea, but I'm trying to work with baby steps here. I did some baked salmon for her when we were having roast lamb. Today is baked gnocchi, with vegetarian sausages

    I'm trying to balance working with her food preference with staying sane and not buying loads of stuff that it turns out she won't eat. I'm a fairly adventurous cook, when I have the time (which I usually don't), and to be fair to her, she's pretty good at eating most veg (only peppers, mushrooms and sweet potatoes are hard nos)

    Any suggestions for meals that can work for all of us? Or thoughts on where we go from here. As I said, I'm happy to support her, but also, she's 10 and 10 year olds can't always get their way on everything!


  • Moderators, Recreation & Hobbies Moderators Posts: 11,413 Mod ✭✭✭✭igCorcaigh

    Will she eat fish? Can she get involved with the cooking and prepping to grow her interest - and maybe yours :) - in trying new types of food?

  • Registered Users Posts: 795 ✭✭✭CreadanLady

    Probably a passing phase. I wouldn't entertain it too much or become a slave to whims like this.

    When I was growing up there was no such thing as vegetariansism or veganism. The thought would have been laughable. But at the same time we didn't have meat most days either. You might have meat on a sunday only. We were largely vegetarian be default as a result of circumstance. There was no such thing as fussy eating habits then - you ate what was given to or you went to bed hungry, possibly with back reddeded for wasting food.

    The MFV Creadan Lady is a mussel dredger from Dunmore East.

  • Registered Users Posts: 272 ✭✭sekond

    Yes, she'll eat fish. Other members of the household aren't as keen on it, but we can definitely keep it in once or twice a week.

    She likes to help prepare food (well, mostly stirring things and chatting to me) and would probably be quite happy to sit with me and chat through the week's meals too. The effort there will need to be on my side, as I usually prefer to do those things alone because it's quicker and easier for me.

    She's also my library buddy at the weekend, so maybe a wander across to the cookbook section to see if anything there catches her fancy. It's a fairly small section but there might just be an "easy vegetarian" type thing that we can both learn from.

  • Registered Users Posts: 272 ✭✭sekond

    I see your point CredanLady, but I'd much rather cook food that she (and anyone sitting at my table) will eat, rather than throw away uneaten food. And I wouldn't force anyone to eat anything that they felt they couldn't eat for whatever reason.

    I don't want meal times to become a battleground, and if I can tweak my cooking style to make a happy healthy child why wouldn't I? I made enchiladas for us all at the weekend - chicken for us, lentils for her, very little extra work - and not only did her face light up when I told her that hers weren't chicken, there was a clean plate at the end of the meal.

  • Registered Users Posts: 17,004 ✭✭✭✭the beer revolu

    The OP wasn't asking for parenting advice, nor does she/he need it from my reading of the situation.

    Subbing chick peas for chicken in a curry seems like a good idea to me.

    Meals like this where you'd just need to add a vegetarian protein while keeping the meat protein separate, seem a pretty easy option.

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  • Registered Users Posts: 220 ✭✭put_the_kettle_on

    Does she like rice meals ? When I make risotto or paella I cook them as vegetable dishes and cook the chicken separately.

  • Registered Users Posts: 118 ✭✭ahappychappy

    Eldest is veggie since he discovered where meat came from (4) he is mid teen now . I just went with it, changed any meals to veggie which were easy chilli,. Ratatouille, fajitas, curry. Prepped frozen portion of veg meals for when we had meat so being prepped was half the battle. He cooks himself now and again. I admire his choice so work with him. I work full time do like you so understand the head space and extra time.He helps meal plan with me and helps prep veg, makes humus, and gorgeous brown bread so it has been a positive in him developing life skills.

  • Registered Users Posts: 9,453 ✭✭✭Shenshen

    My suggestion would be to look at it from the other side : Rather than looking at dishes you can leave the meat out of, look at dishes you can add meat to for those in your family who want it.

    So, for example, if you make a risotto, you can easily add bacon to it after cooking it, or have it with a bit of chicken, while she has hers without meat. Same would go for a nice pasta dish. Make the sauce without meat, and have meat that can be added. Asian-style stir-frys are really good for this, too.

    A great way of approaching this might also be the "build your own plate" type meals. I'm thinking something like burritos, for example. You can make a "base" filling of mashed beans with tomatoes, any number of fresh, sliced vegetables, grated cheese and some chicken pieces. I remember these kinds of meals very fondly, where the ingredients were put on the table and everyone in the family helped themselves and made a plate they liked. You can do the same with falafel, there are some rather nice ready-made ones in Aldi, for example.

    Just keep in mind to keep a good source of protein (cheese and dairy, beans, lentils chickpeas, or, if you're feeling adventurous, tofu) available for her with every meal. The biggest problem with just "leaving meat out" is that the meals become usually quite carb-heavy and low in protein, which can become a problem over time.

  • Registered Users Posts: 272 ✭✭sekond

    Thanks Shenshen, those are really useful ideas. The 'build your own plate' meals always go down well here generally, and she was probably taking less meat than I realised when we were doing them - so adding some non-meat protein to what I'm already doing could work quite well.

  • Registered Users Posts: 272 ✭✭sekond

    Yes, she loves rice. Paella isn't something I've tried before, so it's definitely another one to try - thanks!

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  • Registered Users Posts: 17,004 ✭✭✭✭the beer revolu

    Try replacing mince with lentils and finely diced aubergine. It's really good and I'd bet that the meat eaters wouldn't even notice. Cottage (pottage) pie works well.

  • Registered Users Posts: 2,600 ✭✭✭MacDanger

    You could try meatballs - made with quorn for your daughter and say beef/pork for everyone else

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 3,078 Mod ✭✭✭✭Black Sheep

    In a busy house I tend to agree with the suggestion that ideally you don't want to be cooking separate meals, ideally you want to be able to make minor adaptions.

    Making a sauce or other base element which can have an optional protein source added in the final stage of cooking does make a lot of sense.

    Another option is to lean into serving the family as a whole more dinners with seafood as a protein source, as a first option. If everyone is on board with seafood based dinners 3 nights of the week then you are halfway there. Could be something like salmon one night, a breaded white fish another night and something texturally different the last night, like a seafood risotto or keralan fish curry.

    I mention breaded fish above because I've always found that people who "don't like" seafood generally will eat a piece of breaded or battered white fish. If this goes down well then you also have the option to serve things like a home-made fish finger sandwich, or fish tacos.

    In terms of fish choices I just want to mention that although I mainly buy hake and cod from Lidl and Aldi for midweek dinners, if you splash out on a more expensive weekend fish then Monkfish seems to work well for people who aren't that into seafood, because of the meaty texture.

    We don't do any purely vegetarian meals in our house, we tend to want to have a big protein source at every meal, and having a piece of meat, fish or several eggs on the plate is the easiest way to do this. If I were going to go back to being vegetarian (Did it for a few years) I would probably be drawing heavily on Indian vegetarian cooking, Meera Sodha's 'Fresh' is a great resource, her recipes are supermarket ingredient based for the most part.

    Also have to give a shout-out to my favourite vegetarian meal of all time, which generally also goes down well with meat eaters, again due to the texture of the centrepiece roast cauliflower.

    For what it's worth in the long term I think worth exploring to what extent your daughter's position is to do with texture versus reservations about animal welfare. I definitely wouldn't sneer at the latter, it's obviously not that unusual for someone to adopt vegetarianism at an early age and personally I have no issue with it. If I thought it was more related to the way particular meats look, and their texture, I would probably want to try to get them past that over time. That doesn't mean forcing them in any way, but I would probably try to push the boundaries gradually. To be honest even if they did have an ethical issue with eating meat I would be tempted to bargain with them, would they eat a high welfare meat source once a week, bearing in mind the rest of the family are accommodating them the rest of the week, etc. Maybe not something you can discuss at 10, but then again, maybe it's the ideal time, as kids can be quite flexible and early on might be the time to tackle this.

  • Registered Users Posts: 272 ✭✭sekond

    We're a couple of weeks in now - and getting a better handle on what is going on. It seems its primarily a combination of texture and animal welfare. So the texture of chunks of meat reminds her that she is eating an animal, which in turn makes her 'feel funny' because she doesn't like the thought of eating animals. She's ok with eating more processed meat as she doesn't have the same issue - but at the same time I'm generally trying to decrease the amount of more processed meat we eat from a health perspective, and trying to switch to more high welfare meat sources (which necessarily, as far as I can tell, rules out the more processed foods).

    Fish is a bit of an issue as the only fish/seafood that one member of the family will eat is salmon and prawns, and the semi-vegetarian will eat most fish but not shellfish. So we are pretty much stuck with just salmon.

    We've had some very successful semi-vegetarian meals though - enchiladas, where the base was peppers and kidney beans, and I did some with chicken and some without; a vegetarian chili using kidney beans, lentils and black beans that my husband didn't realise didn't have meat in it until I told him afterwards, and chickpea curry with chicken added. Not so successful were veggie fingers, falafel, and a pie made with veg and butterbeans - partly because I didn't use my usual pie filling sauce, and partly because she hated the butter beans!

    There has also been regular mince meatballs one night, and a chicken burger (she was offered the choice of a veggie burger or a chicken one, but said the veggie ones I bought were awful)

    Tonight is a lentil bolognese - we shall see how that goes!

  • Registered Users Posts: 17,004 ✭✭✭✭the beer revolu

    You could try trout as a change from salmon. We fairly regularly buy farmed (sea?trout). It's pink and similar to salmon.